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  • feedwordpress 09:01:41 on 2018/11/09 Permalink
    Tags: , Florence Sabin, , immunology, , , New Orleans, public health, , ,   

    “Francie, huddled with other children of her kind, learned more that first day than she realized. She learned of the class system of a great Democracy.”*… 

     

    yellow fever

    Engraving from a series of images titled “The Great Yellow Fever Scourge — Incidents Of Its Horrors In The Most Fatal District Of The Southern States.”

     

    Some people say New Orleans is haunted because of witches. Others say it’s haunted by vampires, or ghosts, or all those swamps. But if you were around between 1817 and 1905, you might say the city was haunted by death. And that death, in large part, was caused by yellow fever.

    Yellow fever was fatal. It was gruesome. And in epidemic years, during the months between July and October, it could wipe out 10 percent of the city’s population. Eventually, it earned New Orleans the nickname “Necropolis” — city of the dead.

    Yellow fever didn’t just kill. It created an entire social structure based on who had survived the virus, who was likely to survive it and who was not long for this world. And that structure had everything to do with immigration and slavery…

    The insidious way in which illness can shape society: “How Yellow Fever Turned New Orleans Into The ‘City Of The Dead‘.”

    * Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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    As we get our flu shots, we might send healing birthday greetings to Florence Rena Sabin; she was born on this date in 1871.  A pioneer for women in science; she was the first woman to hold a full professorship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the first woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and the first woman to head a department at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.  Relevantly to today’s post, at Rockefeller she founded the cellular immunology section, where she researched the body’s white blood cells reaction to tuberculosis infection.

    400px-Florence_Sabin_in_Rockefeller_lab source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:05 on 2018/09/23 Permalink
    Tags: computer vision, corners, , , public health, , thyphoid fever, Thyphoid Mary, typhus, , vision   

    “There is one thing which gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner”*… 

     

    around corners

     

    While vacationing on the coast of Spain in 2012, the computer vision scientist Antonio Torralba noticed stray shadows on the wall of his hotel room that didn’t seem to have been cast by anything. Torralba eventually realized that the discolored patches of wall weren’t shadows at all, but rather a faint, upside-down image of the patio outside his window. The window was acting as a pinhole camera — the simplest kind of camera, in which light rays pass through a small opening and form an inverted image on the other side. The resulting image was barely perceptible on the light-drenched wall. But it struck Torralba that the world is suffused with visual information that our eyes fail to see.

    “These images are hidden to us,” he said, “but they are all around us, all the time.”

    The experience alerted him and his colleague, Bill Freeman, both professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to the ubiquity of “accidental cameras,” as they call them: windows, corners, houseplants and other common objects that create subtle images of their surroundings. These images, as much as 1,000 times dimmer than everything else, are typically invisible to the naked eye. “We figured out ways to pull out those images and make them visible,” Freeman explained.

    The pair discovered just how much visual information is hiding in plain sight. In their first paper, Freeman and Torralba showed that the changing light on the wall of a room, filmed with nothing fancier than an iPhone, can be processed to reveal the scene outside the window. Last fall, they and their collaborators reported that they can spot someone moving on the other side of a corner by filming the ground near the corner. This summer, they demonstrated that they can film a houseplant and then reconstruct a three-dimensional image of the rest of the room from the disparate shadows cast by the plant’s leaves. Or they can turn the leaves into a “visual microphone,” magnifying their vibrations to listen to what’s being said…

    Computer vision researchers have uncovered a world of visual signals hiding in our midst, including subtle motions that betray what’s being said and faint images of what’s around a corner: “The New Science of Seeing Around Corners.”

    * G. K. Chesterton

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    As we crane our necks, we might send infectious birthday greetings to Mary Mallon; she was born on this date in 1869.  Better known by the nickname given her by the press, “Typhoid Mary,” she was the first person in the United States identified (in 1915) as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever… before which, she inadvertently spread typhus for years while working as a cook in the New York area.  From 1915 to 1938, when she died of s stroke, she was quarantined on North Brother Island (in the East River, between Riker’s Island and the Bronx).

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:28 on 2018/09/02 Permalink
    Tags: armaments, , gun control, , Hiram Percy Maxim, , Maxim, Maxim silencer, public health,   

    “Speaking personally, you can have my gun, but you’ll take my book when you pry my cold, dead fingers off of the binding”*… 

     

     

    A new study reveals more than a quarter-million people died from firearm-related injuries in 2016, with half of those deaths occurring in only six countries in the Americas: Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Guatemala.

    A part of the Global Burden of Disease, the study assesses firearm-related mortality between 1990 and 2016 for 195 countries and territories by age and by sex. It is the most extensive study ever conducted on global firearm-related deaths. Deaths from conflict and terrorism, executions, and law enforcement shootings were not included in the total estimates.

    “This study confirms what many have been claiming for years – that gun violence is one of the greatest public health crises of our time,” said Dr. Mohsen Naghavi, a professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, and first author of the study. “There are no simple antidotes to address this health problem. The tragedy of each firearm-related death will continue until reasonable and reasoned leaders come together to address the issue.”…

    The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reports: “Six countries in the Americas account for half of all firearm deaths.”  The full report, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is summarized here.

    * Stephen King

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    As we search for those “reasonable and reasoned leaders,” we might send quiet birthday greetings to Hiram Percy Maxim; he was born on this date in 1869.  An inventor, he created the “Maxim silencer.”  In that accomplishment he was in keeping with family tradition:  His uncle, Hudson Maxim, created smokeless gun powder and both the explosive maximite and the delayed-action detonating fuse (which enabled torpedoes); and his father, Hiram Stevens Maxim, invented the Maxim machine gun,

    250px-Hiram_Percy_Maxim source

     

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:55 on 2018/04/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , medical, public health, , , The Silent Spring,   

    ” Technology made large populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable”*… 

     

     click here for enlargeable version of the full chart

    For most of civilized history, life expectancy fluctuated in the 30 to 40 year range.

    Child mortality was all too common, and even for those that made it to adulthood, a long and healthy life was anything but guaranteed. Sanitation was poor, disease was rampant, and many medical practices were based primarily on superstition or guesswork.

    By the 20th century, an explosion in new technologies, treatments, and other science-backed practices helped to increase global life expectancy at an unprecedented rate.

    From 1900 to 2015, global life expectancy more than doubled, shooting well past the 70 year mark.

    What were the major innovations that made the last century so very fruitful in saving lives?…  Interestingly, while many of these innovations have some linkage to the medical realm, there are also breakthroughs in sectors like energy, sanitation, and agriculture that have helped us lead longer and healthier lives…

    See the list in full, along with a nifty infographic, at “The 50 Most Important Life-Saving Breakthroughs in History.”

    Readers will note that “history” for these folks seems to start in the 19th century… so that one doesn’t find, for instance, the development of domestication or the invention of the plow.  And even then, one could quibble: surely, for example, the understanding of contagious diseases, epidemiology, and medical statistics/cartography that flowed from Dr. John Snow’s mapping of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London belongs on the list.  Still, it’s provocative to ponder.

    * Joesph Wood Krutch

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    As we realize, with Krutch, that will the sweet comes the bitter, we might spare a thought for Rachel Carson; she died on this date in 1964.  A pioneering environmentalist, her book The Silent Spring— a study of the long-term dangers of pesticide use– challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind relates to the natural world.

    The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
    – Rachel Carson

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:36 on 2017/05/21 Permalink
    Tags: EKG, electrocardiograph, , , , , public health, , , Willem Einthoven   

    Life expectancy is a statistical phenomenon. You could still be hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow.”*… 

     

    Still…

    Life expectancy has risen across the U.S. steadily over the last few decades; but the gains are not equally distributed.  Flowing Data illustrates why one might prefer Minnesota to Mississippi: “Life expectancy by state, against the US average.”

    * Ray Kurzweil

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    As we muse on moving, we might send heart-felt birthday greetings to Willem Einthoven; he was born on this date in 1860.  A physician and physiologist, he introduced a new era in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the heart with his invention of the electrocardiograph, for which he was awarded the 1924 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.  His creation became an essential clinical instrument for displaying the electrical properties of the heart– especially useful, of course, in the diagnosis of heart disease.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:09 on 2017/03/15 Permalink
    Tags: , , , John Snow, lies, lying with statistics, , public health, ,   

    “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion”*… 

     

    It used to be that we’d see a poorly made graph or a data design goof, laugh it up a bit, and then carry on. At some point though — during this past year especially — it grew more difficult to distinguish a visualization snafu from bias and deliberate misinformation.

    Of course, lying with statistics has been a thing for a long time, but charts tend to spread far and wide these days. There’s a lot of them. Some don’t tell the truth. Maybe you glance at it and that’s it, but a simple message sticks and builds. Before you know it, Leonardo DiCaprio spins a top on a table and no one cares if it falls or continues to rotate.

    So it’s all the more important now to quickly decide if a graph is telling the truth…

    Nathan Yau (Flowing Data) provides a very helpful (and very amusing) guide: “How to Spot Visualization Lies.”

    * W. Edwards Deming

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    As we key our eyes open, we might send healthy birthday greetings to John Snow; he was born on this date in 1813.  A physician and a leader in the adoption of anaesthesia and medical hygiene, he is considered the father of modern epidemiology, in large measure because of his work in tracing the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho, London, in 1854.  His On the Mode of Communication of Cholera (1849) suggested that cholera was a contagious disease easily transmitted by contaminated water. But the widely-held theory was that diseases are caused by bad air led to his idea being ignored.  Then, in London’s 1854 cholera emergency, he painstakingly correlated individual cholera casualties to the water supply they had used in each case.  He then communicated his results with a map that underlined his point, and ended the deadly epidemic by removing the pump handle of the community water pump that he found to be the culprit.

    Snow’s map of cholera cases

    source

    His findings inspired fundamental changes in the water and waste systems of London, which led to similar changes in other cities, and a significant improvement in general public health around the world.  His mode of communicating them contributed to the rise of data visualization.

     source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:10 on 2017/02/22 Permalink
    Tags: , family tree, geneology, , infant mortality, largest family tree, public health, Sara Josephine Baker, ,   

    “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors”*… 

     

    Your family tree might contain a few curious revelations. It might alert you to the existence of long-lost third cousins. It might tell you your 10-times-great-grandfather once bought a chunk of Brooklyn. It might reveal that you have royal blood. But when family trees includes millions of people—maybe even tens of millions of people—then we’re beyond the realm of individual stories.

    When genealogies get so big, they’re not just the story of a family anymore; they contain the stories of whole countries and, at the risk of sounding grandiose, even all of humanity…

    The story of the largest family tree so far found– 13 million people. (And yes, that includes Kevin Bacon.): “What Can You Do With the World’s Largest Family Tree?

    * Edmund Burke

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    As we ruminate on roots, we might spare a thought for Sara Josephine Baker; she died on this date in 1945. A physician and public health pioneer, she was active especially in the immigrant communities of New York City.  In 1917, she noted that babies born in the United States faced a higher mortality rate than soldiers fighting in World War I, and undertook her fight against the damage that widespread urban poverty and ignorance caused to children, especially newborns.  She founded the Bureau of Child Hygiene after visiting mothers on the lower east side, was appointed assistant to the Commissioner for Public Health of New York City, then headed the city’s Department of Health in Hell’s Kitchen for 25 years.  Among many other initiatives, she set up free milk clinics, licensed midwives, and taught the use of silver nitrate to prevent blindness in newborns.

    She is also known for (twice) tracking down Mary Mallon, the infamous index case known as Typhoid Mary.

     source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:58 on 2017/01/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , , organ donation, public health, , , ,   

    “The law of unintended consequences pushes us ceaselessly through the years”*… 

     

    Much has been said about the ways we expect our oncoming fleet of driverless cars to change the way we live—remaking us all into passengers, rewiring our economy, retooling our views of ownership, and reshaping our cities and roads.

    They will also change the way we die. As technology takes the wheel, road deaths due to driver error will begin to diminish. It’s a transformative advancement, but one that comes with consequences in an unexpected place: organ donation…

    * Richard Schickel

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    As we get to the heart of the matter, we might spare a thought for a wicked bender of English words, James Augustine Aloysius Joyce; he died on this date in 1941.  A poet and novelist best known for Ulysses, he was the preeminent figure in the Modernist avant-garde, and a formative influence on writers as various as (Joyce’s protege) Samuel Becket, Jorge Luis Borges, Salmon Rushdie, and Joesph Campbell.

    In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Ulysses No. 1, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man No. 3, and Finnegans Wake No. 77, on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.  The next year, Time Magazine named Joyce one of its 100 Most Important People of the 20th century, observing that “Joyce … revolutionized 20th century fiction.”  And illustrating that Joyce’s influence was not confined to the arts: physicist Murray Gell-Mann used the sentence “Three quarks for Muster Mark!” (in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake) as source for the elementary particle he was naming– the quark.

    A portrait of the artist as a 38 year old man: the image of Joyce included in a printed subscription order form for the 1921 Paris edition of Ulysses. The image itself dates from 1918,

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:36 on 2016/09/20 Permalink
    Tags: 100 Objects that shaped Public Health, David Marine, goiter, , iodine, , objects, public health, salt,   

    “Arguably the greatest technological triumph of the century has been the public-health system”*… 

     

    The car seat: one of the objects that shaped public health

    Public health impacts all of us, in every corner of the globe, every day of our lives — not only our health and safety, but also how we live, what we wear, what we eat, what happens to our environment and the stewardship of our planet. For better or worse, these 100 objects have made their mark on public health. Some, such as vaccines, have helped keep us healthy. Others, including cigarettes, have made us sick. Some are surprising (horseshoe crabs?) and others make perfect sense (bicycle helmet). Some are relics from the past (spittoon) and others are products of our digital age (smartphone)…

    In celebration of its centennial, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has compiled a list of the “100 Objects That Shaped Public Health.”

    * “Arguably the greatest technological triumph of the century has been the public-health system, which is sophisticated preventive and investigative medicine organized around mostly low- and medium-tech equipment; … fully half of us are alive today because of the improvements.”
    ― Richard Rhodes, Visions of Technology: A Century of Vital Debate About Machines Systems and the Human World

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    As we buckle our seat belts, we might send thoughtfully-seasoned birthday greetings to David Marine; he was born on this date in 1888.  A pathologist, he is best remembered for his trial, from 1917 to 1922, during which he supplemented the diets of Ohio schoolgirls with iodine, which greatly reduced their development of goiter— and led to the iodization of table salt (one of Johns Hopkins’ 100 Objects).

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:20 on 2016/03/15 Permalink
    Tags: Bazalgette, Great Stink, , , , perfume, public health, scent, , ,   

    “Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will”*… 

     

    Woodcut engraving from the mid-16th century depicting the process of distilling essential oils from plants with a conical condenser

    Since ancient times, people have felt that eliminating the foul odors of human bodies and effluvia is an effective– indeed, in some times and cultures, the most effective–  way to improve public health.

    Consider the sweet, intoxicating smell of a rose: While it might seem superficial, the bloom’s lovely odor is actually an evolutionary tactic meant to ensure the plant’s survival by attracting pollinators from miles away. Since ancient times, the rose’s aroma has also drawn people under its spell, becoming one of the most popular extracts for manufactured fragrances. Although the function of these artificial scents has varied widely—from incense for spiritual ceremonies to perfumes for fighting illness to products for enhancing sex appeal—they’ve all emphasized a connection between good smells and good health, whether in the context of religious salvation or physical hygiene.

    Over the last few millennia, as scientific knowledge and social norms have fluctuated, what Westerners considered smelling “good” has changed drastically: In today’s highly deodorized world, where the notion of “chemical sensitivity” justifies bans on fragrance and our tolerance of natural smells is ever diminishing, we assume that to be without smell is to be clean, wholesome, and pure. But throughout the long and pungent history of humanity, smelling healthy has been as delightful as it has disgusting…

    The whole stinky story at “Our Pungent History: Sweat, Perfume, and the Scent of Death.”

    * Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer [an amazingly good novel]

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    As we hold our noses, we might spare a thought for Sir Joseph William Bazalgette; he died on this date in 1891.  A civil engineer, he became chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, in which role his major achievement was a response to the “Great Stink of 1858,” in July and August 1858, during which very hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent.  Bazalgette oversaw the creation of a sewer network for central London which addressed the problem– and was instrumental in relieving the city from cholera epidemics and in beginning the cleansing of the River Thames.

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